As part of the war effort, women and girls acted as couriers and spies, including Sybil Ludington, Lydia Darragh, and Anna Smith Strong.
Sybil Ludington was just sixteen years old when she contributed to the war effort. On April 26, 1777, the British troops were in Danbury, Connecticut destroying supplies that the continental army needed. When the American rebels heard about the assault on Danbury, they needed men to prevent further attacks. A man on horseback came to Colonel Ludington’s house, telling him that he needed to assemble his men. The Colonel had let his men go so that they could tend to their fields. The Colonel requested the man continue on, to go rally his men, but the man said he could not ride any further (4). The Colonel asked his daughter Sybil to go call the men to arms, and she agreed. She made the more than forty-mile dangerous journey through the night to round up the men. With Sybil’s help, the men were able to meet at Colonel Ludington’s house, and marched on to Danbury against the British attack, and drove them out of town (1). Her ride has been compared to that of Paul Revere, but she was more successful; she accomplished her mission and did not get caught (1).
Like Sybil Ludington, Lydia Darragh acted as a courier as well, but she also gathered military intelligence. The British had been occupying the city of Philadelphia, and seizing people’s homes for their personal use. This happened to Lydia and her family, but she pleaded with the British to allow them to stay, because they had nowhere else to go. The British allowed them to stay, as long as they kept a room available for their meetings (1). With the British meeting in their home, Lydia had an opportunity to collect British military intelligence. One night, the British asked the Darragh family to retire early so that they could have their meeting in private. Lydia seized this chance to help the rebel cause, by listening in on the meeting. She learned that the British were planning an attack on Washington’s camp. The British suspected nothing was wrong. The next day, Lydia procured a pass to go outside the city, on the pretense to buy some flour, but she had alternative motives. Lydia obtained the pass, and was able to pass along the information about the upcoming attack. Washington’s troops were ready for the British (1).
Anna Smith Strong
Like Lydia Darragh, Anna Smith Strong gathered military intelligence too. Anna was a part of the Culper Spy Ring, which gathered valuable information about the British and their movements. This operation was developed by Washington in 1778, so that the British would not have an advantage by having the colonies split geographically (2). Anna used her clothes line as a way to communicate messages to other spies in the operation. She accomplished this by hanging up a black petticoat, and different amounts of handkerchiefs to transmit her messages, without drawing attention to herself (2).
Learn about women taking on the roles of rescuers, defenders, and soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Click here to learn more.